Empire: The Lost SF Classic
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by Clifford D. Simak
Category: Science Fiction
Description: Rarely Reprinted Novel of Future Political Intrigue by Winner of 3 Hugos and a Nebula! One man wanted to make the solar system his own personal Empire. Spencer Chambers was a trillionaire and an industrialist. He owned the ships that could carry humanity to freedom and plenty in the untapped riches of the solar system. But in return he wanted to charge prices so high he would end up owning every planet and asteroid. Gregory Manning had a different idea. He saw a solar system open to everyone, that everyone could own a piece of. Only one man's vision for the future of humanity could come true: slavery or freedom. But Gregory Manning had an ace up his sleeve--a scientific ace. Here is a lost classic by the author of Way Station and other science fiction masterworks.
eBook Publisher: Renaissance E Books/PageTurner,
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
35 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [227 KB]
Reading time: 143-201 min.
Spencer Chambers frowned at the space gram on the desk before him. John Moore Mallory. That was the man who had caused so much trouble in the Jovian elections. The trouble maker who had shouted for an investigation of Interplanetary Power. The man who had said that Spencer Chambers and Interplanetary Power were waging economic war against the people of the Solar System.
Chambers smiled. With long, well-kept fingers, he rubbed his iron-gray mustache.
John Moore Mallory was right; for that reason, he was a dangerous man. Prison was the place for him, but probably a prison outside the Jovian confederacy. Perhaps one of the prison ships that plied to the edge of the System, clear to the orbit of Pluto. Or would the prison on Mercury be better?
Spencer Chambers leaned back in his chair and matched his fingertips, staring at them, frowning again.
Mercury was a hard place. A man's life wasn't worth much there. Working in the power plants, where the Sun poured out its flaming blast of heat, and radiations sucked the energy from one's body, in six months, a year at most, any man was finished.
Chambers shook his head. Not Mercury. He had nothing against Mallory. He had never met the man but he rather liked him. Mallory was just a man fighting for a principle, the same as Chambers was doing.
He was sorry that it had been necessary to put Mallory in prison. If the man only had listened to reason, had accepted the proposals that had been made, or just had dropped out of sight until the Jovian elections were over ... or at least had moderated his charges. But when he had attempted to reveal the offers, which he termed bribery, something had to be done.
Ludwig Stutsman had handled that part of it. Brilliant fellow, this Stutsman, but as mean a human as ever walked on two legs. A man utterly without mercy, entirely without principle. A man who would stoop to any depth. But a useful man, a good one to have around to do the dirty work. And dirty work sometimes was necessary.
Chambers picked up the spacegram again and studied it. Stutsman, out on Callisto now, had sent it. He was doing a good job out there. The Jovian confederacy, less than one Earth year under Interplanetary domination, was still half rebellious, still angry at being forced to turn over its government to the hand-picked officials of Chambers' company. An iron heel was needed and Stutsman was that iron heel.
SO the people on the Jovian satellites wanted the release of John Moore Mallory. "They're getting ugly," the spacegram said. It had been a mistake to confine Mallory to Callisto. Stutsman should have thought of that.
Chambers would instruct Stutsman to remove Mallory from the Callisto prison, place him on one of the prison ships. Give instructions to the captain to make things comfortable for him. When this furor had blown over, after things had quieted down in the Jovian confederacy, it might be possible to release Mallory. After all, the man wasn't really guilty of any crime. It was a shame that he should be imprisoned when racketeering rats like Scorio went scot-free right here in New York.
A buzzer purred softly and Chambers reached out to press a stud.
"Dr. Craven to see you," his secretary said. "You asked to see him. Mr. Chambers."
"All right," said Chambers. "Send him right in."
He clicked the stud again, picked up his pen, wrote out a spacegram to Stutsman, and signed it.
Dr. Herbert Craven stood just inside the door, his black suit wrinkled and untidy, his sparse sandy hair standing on end.
"You sent for me," he said sourly.
"Sit down, Doctor," invited Chambers.* * * *
Craven sat down. He peered at Chambers through thick-lensed glasses.
"I haven't much time," he declared acidly.
"Cigar?" Chambers offered.
"A drink, then?"
"You know I don't drink," snapped Craven.
"Doctor," said Chambers, "you're the least sociable man I've ever known. What do you do to enjoy yourself?"
"I work," said Craven. "I find it interesting."
"You must. You even begrudge the time it takes to talk with me."
"I won't deny it. What do you want this time?"
Chambers swung about to face him squarely across the desk. There was a cold look in the financier's gray eyes and his lips were grim.
"Craven," he said, "I don't trust you. I've never trusted you. Probably that's no news to you."
"You don't trust anyone," countered Craven. "You're watching everybody all the time."
"You sold me a gadget I didn't need five years ago," said Chambers. "You outfoxed me and I don't hold it against you. In fact, it almost made me admire you. Because of that I put you under a contract, one that you and all the lawyers in hell can't break, because someday you'll find something valuable, and when you do, I want it. A million a year is a high price to pay to protect myself against you, but I think it's worth it. If I didn't think so, I'd have turned you over to Stutsman long ago. Stutsman knows how to handle men like you."
"You mean," said Craven, "that you've found I'm working on something I haven't reported to you."
"That's exactly it."
"You'll get a report when I have something to report. Not before."
"That's all right," said Chambers. "I just wanted you to know."
Craven got to his feet slowly. "These talks with you are so refreshing," he remarked.
"We'll have to have them oftener," said Chambers.
Craven banged the door as he went out.
Chambers stared after him. A queer man, the most astute scientific mind anywhere, but not a man to be trusted. * * * *
The president of Interplanetary Power rose from his chair and walked to the window. Below spread the roaring inferno of New York, greatest city in the Solar System, a strange place of queer beauty and weighty materialism, dreamlike in its super-skyscraper construction, but utilitarian in its purpose, for it was a port of many planets.
The afternoon sunlight slanted through the window, softening the iron-gray hair of the man who stood there. His shoulders almost blocked the window, for he had the body of a fighting man, one, moreover, in good condition. His short-clipped mustache rode with an air of dignity above his thin, rugged mouth.
His eyes looked out on the city, but did not see it. Through his brain went the vision of a dream that was coming true. His dream spun its fragile net about the planets of the Solar System, about their moons, about every single foot of planetary ground where men had gone to build and create a second homeland-the mines of Mercury and the farms of Venus, the pleasure-lands of Mars and the mighty domed cities on the moons of Jupiter, the moons of Saturn and the great, cold laboratories of Pluto.
Power was the key, supplied by the accumulators owned and rented by Interplanetary Power. A monopoly of power. Power that Venus and Mercury had too much of, must sell on the market, and that the other planets and satellites needed. Power to drive huge spaceships across the void, to turn the wheels of industry, to heat the domes on colder worlds. Power to make possible the life and functioning of mankind on hostile worlds.
In the great power plants of Mercury and Venus, the accumulators were charged and then shipped out to those other worlds where power was needed. Accumulators were rented, never sold. Because they belonged at all times to Interplanetary Power, they literally held the fate of all the planets in their cells.
A few accumulators were manufactured and sold by other smaller companies, but they were few and the price was high. Interplanetary saw to that. When the cry of monopoly was raised, Interplanetary could point to these other manufacturers as proof that there was no restraint of trade. Under the statute no monopoly could be charged, but the cost of manufacturing accumulators alone was protection against serious competition from anyone.
Upon a satisfactory, efficient power-storage device rested the success or failure of space travel itself. That device and the power it stored were for sale by Interplanetary ... and, to all practical purposes, by Interplanetary only.
Accordingly, year after year, Interplanetary had tightened its grip upon the Solar System. Mercury was virtually owned by the company. Mars and Venus were little more than puppet states. And now the government of the Jovian confederacy was in the hands of men who acknowledged Spencer Chambers as their master. On Earth the agents and the lobbyists representing Interplanetary swarmed in every capital, even in the capital of the Central European Federation, whose people were dominated by an absolute dictatorship. For even Central Europe needed accumulators.
"Economic dictatorship," said Spencer Chambers to himself. "That's what John Moore Mallory called it." Well, why not? Such a dictatorship would insure the best business brains at the heads of the governments, would give the Solar System a business administration, would guard against the mistakes of popular government.
Democracies were based on a false presumption-the theory that all people were fit to rule. It granted intelligence where there was no intelligence. It presumed ability where there was not the slightest trace of any. It gave the idiot the same political standing as the wise man, the crackpot the same political opportunity as the man of well-grounded common sense, the weakling the same voice as the strong man. It was government by emotion rather than by judgment. * * * *
Spencer Chambers' face took on stern lines. There was no softness left now. The late afternoon sunlight painted angles and threw shadows and created highlights that made him look almost like a granite mask on a solid granite body.
There was no room for Mallory's nonsense in a dynamic, expanding civilization. No reason to kill him-even he might have value under certain circumstances, and no really efficient executive destroys value-but he had to be out of the way where his mob-rousing tongue could do no damage. The damned fool! What good would his idiotic idealism do him on a prison spaceship? * * * * CHAPTER TWO
Russell Page squinted thoughtful eyes at the thing he had created-a transparent cloud, a visible, sharply outlined cloud of something. It was visible as a piece of glass is visible, as a globe of water is visible. There it lay, within his apparatus, a thing that shouldn't be.
"I believe we have something there, Harry," he said slowly.
Harry Wilson sucked at the cigarette that drooped from the corner of his mouth, blew twin streams of smoke from his nostrils. His eyes twitched nervously.
"Yeah," he said. "Anti-entropy."
"All of that," said Russell Page. "Perhaps a whole lot more."
"It stops all energy change," said Wilson, "as if time stood still and things remained exactly as they were when time had stopped."
"It's more than that," Page declared. "It conserves not only energy in toto, not only the energy of the whole, but the energy of the part. It is perfectly transparent, yet it has refractive qualities. It won't absorb light because to do so would change its energy content. In that field, whatever is hot stays hot, whatever is cold can't gain heat."
He scraped his hand over a week's growth of beard, considering. From his pocket he took a pipe and a leather pouch. Thoughtfully he filled the pipe and lit it.
It had started with his experiments in Force Field 348, an experiment to observe the effects of heating a conductor in that field. It had been impossible to heat the conductor electrically, for that would have upset the field, changed it, twisted it into something else. So he had used a bunsen burner.
Through half-closed eyes, he still could see that slender strand of imperm wire, how its silvery length had turned to red under the blue flame. Deep red at first and then brighter until it flamed in almost white-hot incandescence. And all the while the humming of the transformer as the force field built up. The humming of the transformer and the muted roaring of the burner and the glowing heat in the length of wire.
Something had happened then ... an awesome something. A weird wrench as if some greater power, some greater law had taken hold. A glove of force, invisible, but somehow sensed, had closed about the wire and flame. Instantly the roaring of the burner changed in tone; an odor of gas spewed out of the vents at its base. Something had cut off the flow of flame in the brass tube. Some force, something...
The flame was a transparent cloud. The blue and red of flame and hot wire had changed, in the whiplash of a second, to a refractive but transparent cloud that hung there within the apparatus. * * * *
The red color had vanished from the wire as the blue had vanished from the flame. The wire was shining. It wasn't silvery, it wasn't white. There was no hint of color, just a refractive blur that told him the wire was there. Colorless reflection. And that meant perfect reflection! The most perfect reflectors reflect little more than 98 per cent of the light incident and the absorption of the two per cent colors those reflectors as copper or gold or chromium. But the imperm wire within that force field that had been flame a moment before, was reflecting all light.
He had cut the wire with a pair of shears and it had still hung, unsupported, in the air, unchanging within the shimmer that constituted something no man had ever seen before.
"You can't put energy in," said Page, talking to himself, chewing the bit of his pipe. "You can't take energy out. It's still as hot as it was at the moment the change came. But it can't radiate any of that heat. It can't radiate any kind of energy."
Why, even the wire was reflective, so that it couldn't absorb energy and thus disturb the balance that existed within that bit of space. Not only energy itself was preserved, but the very form of energy.
But why? That was the question that hammered at him. Why? Before he could go ahead, he had to know why.
Perhaps the verging of the field toward Field 349? Somewhere in between those two fields of force, somewhere within that almost non-existent border-line which separated them, he might find the secret.
Rising to his feet, he knocked out his pipe.
"Harry," he announced, "we have work to do."
Smoke drooled from Wilson's nostrils.
"Yeah," he said.
Page had a sudden urge to lash out and hit the man. That eternal drooling of smoke out of his nostrils, that everlasting cigarette dangling limply from one corner of his mouth, the shifty eyes, the dirty fingernails, got on his nerves.
But Wilson was a mechanical genius. His hands were clever despite the dirty nails. They could fashion pinhead cameras and three gram electroscopes or balances capable of measuring the pressure of electronic impacts. As a laboratory assistant he was unbeatable. If only he wouldn't answer every statement or question with that nerve-racking 'yeah'!
Page stopped in front of a smaller room, enclosed by heavy quartz. Inside that room was the great bank of mercury-vapor rectifiers. From them lashed a blue-green glare that splashed against his face and shoulders, painting him in angry, garish color. The glass guarded him from the terrific blast of ultra-violet light that flared from the pool of shimmering molten metal, a terrible emanation that would have flayed a man's skin from his body within the space of seconds. * * * *
The scientist squinted his eyes against the glare. There was something in it that caught him with a deadly fascination. The personification of power-the incredibly intense spot of incandescent vapor, the tiny sphere of blue-green fire, the spinning surge of that shining pool, the intense glare of ionization.
Power ... the breath of modern mankind, the pulse of progress.
In an adjacent room were the accumulators. Not Interplanetary accumulators, which he would have had to rent, but ones he had bought from a small manufacturer who turned out only ten or fifteen thousand a year ... not enough to bother Interplanetary.
Gregory Manning had made it possible for him to buy those accumulators. Manning had made many things possible in this little laboratory hidden deep within the heart of the Sierras, many miles from any other habitation.
Manning's grandfather, Jackson Manning, had first generated the curvature field and overcome gravity, had left his grandson a fortune that approached the five billion mark. But that had not been all. From his famous ancestor, Manning had inherited a keen, sharp, scientific mind. From his mother's father, Anthony Barret, he had gained an astute business sense. But unlike his maternal grandfather, he had not turned his attention entirely to business. Old Man Barret had virtually ruled Wall Street for almost a generation, had become a financial myth linked with keen business sense, with an uncanny ability to handle men and money. But his grandson, Gregory Manning, had become known to the world in a different way. For while he had inherited scientific ability from one side of the family, financial sense from the other, he likewise had inherited from some other ancestor-perhaps remote and unknown-a wanderlust that had taken him to the farthest outposts of the Solar System.
IT was Gregory Manning who had financed and headed the rescue expedition which took the first Pluto flight off that dark icebox of a world when the exploration ship had crashed. It was he who had piloted home the winning ship in the Jupiter derby, sending his bulleting craft screaming around the mighty planet in a time which set a Solar record. It was Gregory Manning who had entered the Venusian swamps and brought back, alive, the mystery lizard that had been reported there. And he was the one who had flown the serum to Mercury when the lives of ten thousand men depended upon the thrumming engines that drove the shining ship inward toward the Sun.
Russell Page had known him since college days. They had worked out their experiments together in the school laboratories, had spent long hours arguing and wondering ... debating scientific theories. Both had loved the same girl, both had lost her, and together they had been bitter over it ... drowning their bitterness in a three-day drunk that made campus history.
After graduation Gregory Manning had gone on to world fame, had roamed over the face of every planet except Jupiter and Saturn, had visited every inhabited moon, had climbed Lunar mountains, penetrated Venusian swamps, crossed Martian deserts, driven by a need to see and experience that would not let him rest. Russell Page had sunk into obscurity, had buried himself in scientific research, coming more and more to aim his effort at the discovery of a new source of power ... power that would be cheap, that would destroy the threat of Interplanetary dictatorship.
Page turned away from the rectifier room.
"Maybe I'll have something to show Greg soon," he told himself. "Maybe, after all these years...." * * * *
Forty minutes after Page put through the call to Chicago, Gregory Manning arrived. The scientist, watching for him from the tiny lawn that surrounded the combined home and laboratory, saw his plane bullet into sight, scream down toward the little field and make a perfect landing.
Hurrying toward the plane as Gregory stepped out of it Russell noted that his friend looked the same as ever, though it had been a year or more since he had seen him. The thing that was discomfiting about Greg was his apparently enduring youthfulness.
He was clad in jodhpurs and boots and an old tweed coat, with a brilliant blue stock at his throat. He waved a hand in greeting and hurried forward. Russ heard the grating of his boots across the gravel of the walk.
Greg's face was bleak; it always was. A clean, smooth face, hard, with something stern about the eyes.
His grip almost crushed Russ's hand, but his tone was crisp. "You sounded excited, Russ."
"I have a right to be," said the scientist. "I think I have found something at last."
"Atomic power?" asked Manning. There was no flutter of excitement in his voice, just a little hardening of the lines about his eyes, a little tensing of the muscles in his cheeks.
Russ shook his head. "Not atomic energy. If it's anything, it's material energy, the secret of the energy of matter."
They halted before two lawn chairs.
"Let's sit down here," invited Russ. "I can tell it to you out here, show it to you afterward. It isn't often I can be outdoors."
"It is a fine place," said Greg. "I can smell the pines."
The laboratory perched on a ledge of rugged rock, nearly 7,000 feet above sea level. Before them the land swept down in jagged ruggedness to a valley far below, where a stream flashed in the noonday Sun. Beyond climbed pine-clad slopes and far in the distance gleamed shimmering spires of snow-capped peaks.
From his leather jacket Russ hauled forth his pipe and tobacco, lighted up.
"It was this way," he said. Leaning back comfortably he outlined the first experiment. Manning listened intently.
"Now comes the funny part," Russ added. "I had hopes before, but I believe this is what put me on the right track. I took a metal rod, a welding rod, you know. I pushed it into that solidified force field, if that is what you'd call it ... although that doesn't describe it. The rod went in. Took a lot of pushing, but it went in. And though the field seemed entirely transparent, you couldn't see the rod, even after I had pushed enough of it in so it should have come out the other side. It was as if it hadn't entered the sphere of force at all. As if I were just telescoping the rod and its density were increasing as I pushed, like pushing it back into itself, but that, of course, wouldn't have been possible."
He paused and puffed at his pipe, his eyes fixed on the snowy peaks far in the purple distance. Manning waited.
"Finally the rod came out," Russ went on. "Mind you, it came out, even after I would have sworn, if I had relied alone upon my eyes, that it hadn't entered the sphere at all. But it came out ninety degrees removed from its point of entry!"
"Wait a second," said Manning. "This doesn't check. Did you do it more than once?"
"I did it a dozen times and the results were the same each time. But you haven't heard the half of it. When I pulled that rod out-yes, I could pull it out-it was a good two inches shorter than when I had pushed it in. I couldn't believe that part of it. It was even harder to believe than that the rod should come out ninety degrees from its point of entry. I measured the rods after that and made sure. Kept an accurate record. Every single one of them lost approximately two inches by being shoved into the sphere. Every single one of them repeated the phenomenon of curving within the sphere to come out somewhere else than where I had inserted them."
"ANY explanation of it?" asked Manning, and now there was a cold chill of excitement in his voice.
"Theories, no real explanations. Remember that you can't see the rod after you push it into the sphere. It's just as if it isn't there. Well, maybe it isn't. You can't disturb anything within that sphere or you'd change the sum of potential-kinetic-pressure energies within it. The sphere seems dedicated to that one thing ... it cannot change. If the rod struck the imperm wire within the field, it would press the wire down, would use up energy, decrease the potential energy. So the rod simply had to miss it somehow. I believe it moved into some higher plane of existence and went around. And in doing that it had to turn so many corners, so many fourth-dimensional corners, that the length was used up. Or maybe it was increased in density. I'm not sure. Perhaps no one will ever know."
"Why didn't you tell me about this sooner?" demanded Manning. "I should have been out here helping you. Maybe I wouldn't be much good, but I might have helped."
"You'll have your chance," Russ told him. "We're just starting. I wanted to be sure I had something before I troubled you. I tried other things with that first sphere. I found that metal pushed through the sphere will conduct an electrical current, which is pretty definite proof that the metal isn't within the sphere at all. Glass can be forced through it without breaking. Not flexible glass, but rods of plain old brittle glass. It turns without breaking, and it also loses some of its length. Water can be forced through a tube inserted in the sphere, but only when terrific pressure is applied. What that proves I can't even begin to guess."
"You said you experimented on the first sphere," said Manning. "Have you made others?"
Russ rose from his chair.
"Come on in, Greg," he said, and there was a grin on his face. "I have something you'll have to see to appreciate."